The Problem of Discipline
However, one of the dangers of emphasising discipline is that it attracts something in us that is proud. There is a certain nobility, a certain strength in disciplined people, and very often, the flesh wants to capitalise on this. If we are not careful, we can come to idolise the disciplines.
Whenever discipline becomes an end in itself, it has malfunctioned. Whenever it becomes bigger than the thing it is supposed to help you achieve, you have lost focus. When you are more impressed with the time you get up than with what you do with that time, you’ve missed the point. If you are more impressed with how faithful you have been in your Bible reading plan than the truth of what is in the Bible, you have missed the point.
Paul warns against the dangers of asceticism in Colossians 2. When strict severity to the body and self-denial has become more than a means, we have crossed over a line. We have made these things the means of our sanctification instead of the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul says they have the appearance of wisdom, but are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
The problem we have with discipline is the same problem we have with works and grace. We think the one nullifies the other. We think we must major on one or the other. We think if it about our discipline, we are rejecting the empowering work of the Spirit. Or we think that if we are Spirit-filled that we must be passive and not striving in our own strength. So you have people on the one end, who strive in their own strength, but without depending on the Holy Spirit. Or you find people on the other end, who wait for desires to produce a discipline in them that their desires are not big enough to do.
The simplest way of resolving this tension in our minds is Colossians.
Colossians 1:29: To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.
God does the work by His Spirit in and through us, as we give ourselves entirely to it. Discipline is part of giving yourself entirely to it.
Philippians 2:12-13: Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. The Spirit will stir up desires and enable obedience, but sandwiched in there are the acts of surrender, self-denial and submission that constitute discipline.
So here is how we can think about discipline: While discipline is not self-empowered, it is self-imposed.
Discipline is a fruit of the Spirit – temperance. But from Paul and others we can tell God’s will, that we impose it upon ourselves, and He will grant the power. In other words, pay the price and God will supply the goods.
“To avoid this danger the minister should voluntarily impose upon himself a life of labor as arduous as that of a farmer, a serious student or a scientist. No man has any right to a way of life less rugged than that of the workers who support him. No preacher has any right to die of old age if hard work will kill him.”
The Types of Discipline
With the need and idea of what discipline is in our lives, I want to spend a brief amount of time outlining the disciplines we ought to have in our lives as pastors. I am not going to spend time detailing them, because you have no doubt heard many messages on them, studied them as topics, and read books by far better and godlier people than I, who have explained better what these are and how we should do them. Instead, I want to sketch how these disciplines form part of our lives, their value and some personal observations. The truth is, discipline is mastering our time and abilities. We all get the same 24 hours every day. We are awake for 16 to 18 of those hours (or we should be). What you do with those hours, how you divide them up, plan them, organise them, supervise them and are held accountable for them, amounts to how disciplined you are. When it comes down to these practical matters, discipline is going to be in how you plan, monitor, and correct .
Many a minister who would be shocked at the thought of doing nothing, nevertheless gets nothing done because he has acquired the habit of frittering away his time. Late hours, requiring compensatory late sleeping, several trips to the store, assisting with the family laundry, standing in line to buy a reservation for his wife’s niece who is going on a visit to [another city] —these things, or others like them, eat up the time and leave him spent and empty at the end of the day.
After a day occupied with trifles, our prophet faces his audience in the evening mentally and spiritually out of tune and altogether unprepared for the holy task before him. His confused smile is attributed to his humility. The audience is tolerant. They know that he has nothing worthwhile to say, but they figure that he has been so busy with his pastoral duties he has not had time to study. They generously forgive him and accept his threadbare offering as the best they can expect under the circumstances. I’m going to suggest that the following seven disciplines should form part of our days, some of them part of every day.
The Discipline of Devotion
There seem to be debates amongst ministers today as to whether a pastor should have a quiet time, since he is going to spend time in sermon preparation anyway. The Biblical answer is: regardless of your vocation, every believer should set time aside to adore and commune with their Lord. Pastors who spend hours on sermons, but are perfect strangers to communing with God, will quickly become powerless, hollow and eventually loveless.
Now it is true the Bible lays down no commands for having ‘the quiet time’. It does not command a time, nor lay out a methodology. But flowing out of the Scriptures are examples of devotion, beginning with the Lord Jesus, and flowing out to include the apostles, the prophets, David, the other psalmists, the kings, the judges, the priests, the patriarchs. God is worthy of His people presenting themselves before Him individually – adoring Him for who he is, thanking Him for new mercies, confessing failures and sins, surrendering to His work, hearing His comforting, rebuking, challenging, promising Voice.- responding with submission and commitment. God deserves it, commends the examples of it in Scripture, church history and biography is replete with the examples of those whose lives were marked because they were devout.
I find it interesting that in Israel’s law, there was both a morning sacrifice and an evening sacrifice. Exodus 29:38-39: Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs of the first year, day by day continually. One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight.
Devotion to God at the start of the day; devotion to God at the close of the day. Not only so, but God told them a fire was always to be burning on the altar of burnt offerings.
Leviticus 6:13: A fire shall always be burning on the altar; it shall never go out.
This, brothers, is how we must see the discipline of devotion. Kindle the flame of love for God in the morning; keep it burning during the day, close off well at night. In other words, if by quiet time you simply mean ticking off a chapter of Scripture or mindlessly reading some clichéd devotional book, then, sure, it’s not worth doing. But if it is the means of blowing on those sparks of love for God, so as to set the tone of abiding in Christ throughout the day – it must be done. We are to pray without ceasing, meditate day and night; in everything give thanks. In other words, devotion is not something you switch on and switch off. But it is something you need to strengthen and foster – from the start of your day till the end. Our hearts need to be aflame. Sleep does not revive us spiritually. Every day, we need to rekindle the embers, get them burning, keep them burning and close off with some extra oil.
I will lay no method upon you except to say that critical to devotion is prayerful meditation on Scriptures and honest heart praise, thanksgiving, confession, surrender and submission. I think you should keep a hymnal with you and sing as you should. If you meditate better when you write, then write. If you will remember your surrender better if you write, then write. But plan to give yourself enough time. Set your alarm if appropriate. Vary the elements but remember that the commitment is what keeps it intense. If it costs, the devotion is felt. Costly devotion rises up to God as a sweet aroma.
– David De Bruyn, Professor of Church History, Shepherds’ Seminary Africa